Sue Parks

I went to a talk on corporate wellness the other day. The speaker was a physician who had led the corporate wellness efforts for a large company. The organization spent $150 million annually on health benefits for its employees. She asked for $400,000 to run a wellness program. The powers-that-be only asked about and challenged the $400,000. No one questioned the $150 million.

Crazy, right? Welcome to my world.

Most people in the room add the $400,000 to the $150 million and look at it as an expenditure of $150.4 million. That is the wrong math. The return on a well-run wellness program is normally a 6-to-1 ratio. Thus, $2.4 million or more could have been saved with the $400,000 investment.

We just kicked off a program with a new client with 500 employees. The cost of two lifestyle driven health issues, obesity and stress, impacted the bottom line last year to the tune of about $7.5 million. This was due to absenteeism, presenteeism (being at work, but mentally not being there), incremental medical claims and increased prescription drugs to deal with just those two lifestyle issues.

The CEO understood this and realized the need to build a culture of wellness in their company. And, he realized that it started with him.


Make a healthy investment

Most executives never hesitate to make an investment in a new piece of equipment or a new technology if they feel it will help their bottom line. But often, company leaders feel wellness is “soft” and not measurable. That is not the case.

Think about one employee with Type II diabetes linked to obesity and the additional costs. Think of the extra prescriptions they get, the couple of extra specialists they see a year, the couple of extra days they are sick each year, the amount of time they spend at work surfing the Internet to learn more about their disease, the increased potential of a worker’s compensation claim by lifting too much, and so on.

You’ve invested in employees. They do a good job for you. Help them get healthier. By doing so, they will be more productive and happier, saving on your bottom line.

Let me tell you about Joe. He stopped at fast food restaurants every night on his way home from work. This was a snack prior to his dinner. Joe spent on average $5 a night, five nights a week, thus, equaling $1,300 a year. Joe was a Type II diabetic and his out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions and medical co-pays equaled an additional $2,000 a year.

Joe got engaged with the corporate wellness program we lead at his company. Joe started walking and stopped having the extra meal each night. Joe is finally able to stop taking his medications and has lost 200 pounds. Between just the prescriptions and extra meal, he is personally saving $3,300 a year. 

At that rate, Joe will personally save $49,500 over the next 15 years. Now, he’s confident that in about 15 years, he will be alive to walk his daughter down the aisle and be able to pay for it. The value of that? Priceless.

By subtracting unhealthy expenses you can add to your bottom line. And, your employees will be much happier with their new bottom line, too!


Sue Parks, a former top-level executive with USWest, Gateway and Kinkos, is a corporate wellness expert. She is the founder and CEO of WalkStyles Inc., based in Irvine, Calif., and co-author of “iCount, 10 Simple Steps to a Healthy Life.” For more information, visit

We had a client recently ask that we send out our daily wellness tip and goal later in the morning. This email is designed so that when you wake up, you can see your wellness goals for the day. Of course, I am always trying to be responsive to our customers, so I started to look into it from the technology side.

Then, I realized the real issue: She was sleeping with her phone! The client got a beep for every new message received. The email we send goes out at 5 a.m. EDT and she lives in Colorado! Our helpful hint turned out to be an annoying 3 a.m. wake-up notice. 

As with most wellness issues, a behavior change was needed.

Recharge and see the benefits

Sleep should be sleep. Unless you are on call to save lives, save your own. Get eight hours of rest. Recharge yourself while your smartphone does the same — in another room.

As the CEO, you can take the first step to help. If employees are on vacation and they email back immediately to a group email, let them know that you would prefer they relax and enjoy their vacation.

And, before you send a text message to the person on vacation, ask yourself if it’s really necessary. Create a culture that respects a person’s time off and have the rest of your senior team follow suit.

Go to most any meeting and at least 50 percent of people in the room are checking their smartphones while the speaker is talking. As leaders, we need to set a tone and manage expectations. If the senior team isn’t paying attention, the rest of the workforce won’t either. 

“Presenteeism” (employees being at work but distracted) is a huge part of the billions lost each year in productivity due to health and wellness issues.

Here are five ways we can change this problem:

  • Have a wellness program that engages people in all aspects of their health.
  • Offer “mindfulness” classes to help employees learn to focus on the present.
  • At meetings, consider checking smartphones at the door.
  • Let vacations be vacations.
  • Create a standard expectation for responsiveness in your corporate culture. This starts with you and your leadership team.

Why is this important?

The dollars lost from employees not being “present” is huge. But, you also need to help employees find balance in their lives. If you don’t, the good ones will leave. And, the not so good ones will hang on and go online to shop, tweet and do whatever while they should be working. There is also the somber side. You don’t want an accident on your hands due to an employee texting while driving or using company equipment.

Feel free to reach out to me with your questions. I can be reached at Since my iPhone recharges downstairs while I sleep upstairs, I will respond to you in the morning.

Sue Parks, a former top-level executive with USWest, Gateway and Kinkos, is a corporate wellness expert. She is the founder and chief executive officer of WalkStyles Inc., based in Irvine, Calif., and co-author of “iCount, 10 Simple Steps to a Healthy Life.” For more information, visit

I remember, as a 5-foot-5-inch executive, being at senior-level conferences and trying to act “taller.” I noticed and later read that the majority of CEOs are more than 6 feet tall. That is a personal stat that is hard to change. Lately, there is one other stat that is getting a lot of attention: BMI. For those of you not sure what BMI is, it is a measure of your body fat as determined by your height and weight.

A Wall Street Journal article highlighted research that showed that executives who have a BMI under 25 percent are perceived more positively by peers than those with BMIs over 25 percent. Why? Perhaps it has to do with self-control or discipline or energy levels. Regardless, it is a perception that can impact your career — and your company’s prospects.

The great thing about this is that you can do something about it. And, it doesn’t have to be doing triathlons or taking up hockey again after all these years. It is about moving more every day. How do you know how much you move? You track it.

Consider every other metric important to your company’s success. You track revenue, receivables, payables, aging inventory, product turns, absenteeism, retention and, I am sure, many other things. If it is important, you track it. As we all know, we achieve what we measure.

While you are thinking about what you personally can do to move more, think about how it would help the rest of your senior team and all your employees if they do the same.

How do you get started in this effort?

Create a baseline and then focus on continuous improvement. If you care about productivity, you need to pay attention. Studies have shown that the cost of obesity for every 1,000 workers equates to $285,000 each year. This number includes absenteeism, increased medical costs, worker’s compensation claims and increased drug costs.

Of course, not everyone is obese, although more than 70 percent of the people in the United States are overweight and obesity is now considered an epidemic.

Moving more helps everything. It helps our creativity, it keeps our brain younger, it helps ward off heart disease and cancer. You name it; it helps. (For more information on BMI, including how to calculate yours, go to this web page from the National Institutes of Health:

Make it happen

Wouldn’t it be great if your employees felt as accountable for their own health as they do for other aspects of the company? Productivity will soar, your retention will be at record levels and people will clamor to work for you. I couldn’t grow taller, but I could be in shape.

In a variety of top-level corporate jobs, I traveled all the time so a gym wasn’t always an option. So I put on a pedometer and started tracking.

Soon, my senior team all started wearing them. We started doing walking meetings. One-on-one sessions while we were moving became the norm. We started sharing our goals and cheering for each other.

I personally began tracking 10,000 steps a day. And, we became the fastest growing division within the company — by profits — not by waistlines.

If it seems like a big undertaking, consider an outside wellness expert to help you set up a plan, create the metrics and lead the implementation and engagement.

Yes, size counts. You want increases in your bottom-line and shrinkage at the waistline.

Sue Parks, a former top-level executive with USWest, Gateway and Kinkos, is a corporate wellness expert. She is the founder and CEO of WalkStyles Inc.,, based in Irvine, Calif., and co-author of “iCount, 10 Simple Steps to a Healthy Life.”